“Guess what, I might be the first hippie pinup girl.” – Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin’s talent burned bright, hot and – sadly — all too fast through the rock firmament. In a very few years, she broke out of her super-conservative Texas upbringing and created a new template for female rock singers. Raw, passionate, totally committed to the music coursing through her, Joplin remains an original.
Her main career lasted roughly two-plus years; she stunned at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, fronting San Francisco’s Big Brother and the Holding Company. That electrifying performance (captured by filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker) catapulted her to instant fame and led to a major record contract for the band. Overall, Janis and her various groups would have five singles reach Billboard’s Hot 100 list (in 1971, “Me and Bobby McGee” would hit #1 just a few months after her death).
By 1969, she was (naturally) invited to perform at Woodstock. But despite the success she’d achieved, Joplin’s demons had escalated. In the early ‘60s, she had developed a drug and booze habit, partly in emulation of her early blues idols, partly due to crushing personal issues. While she had successfully cleaned up at various times, in 1969, Joplin was struggling mightily with heroin, shooting $200 a day worth (and that’s in ‘69 dollars). The chaotic schedule of Woodstock (rain delays and more) created a 10-hour wait for her appearance. During that time, she got loaded.
She wasn’t happy with the performance, thus it was left out of the subsequent Woodstock movie and soundtrack. Yet in his 2012 memoir, Pete Townshend of the Who (who followed Joplin later that morning) said that despite her being out of it, “… even Janis on an off-night was incredible.”
Related: “The Who’s ‘Tommy’ At 50”
“I just want to feel as much as I can, it’s what soul is all about.” – Janis Joplin
For Janis, 1969 included forming a new group, the Kozmic Blues Band, and appearing alongside Tina Turner at Madison Square Garden during a Rolling Stones show. She also performed again on “The Dick Cavett Show” – one of several experiences with him that she said she truly enjoyed. The two had a lovely rapport.
Sadly, in October of 1970, Janis Joplin overdosed in a hotel room near the Sunset Strip. She was 27. But thankfully for us and future generations, we have a record of her on-stage moments. Most exciting is that her full performance at Woodstock is now available on an exceptional new box set from Rhino Records. It’s a rock history treasure finally unearthed, and one more starburst in Joplin’s blazing career.
“I have to have the ‘umph.’ I’ve got to feel it because if it’s not getting through to me, the audience sure as hell aren’t going to feel it either.” – Janis Joplin
-Photo of Janis Joplin via the Associated Press